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FYF Fest: Kanye West brings Rihanna onstage as a surprise guest

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Gabriel Olsen/FilmMagic

On Saturday night, attendees of Los Angeles’ FYF Fest experienced what can only be described as a glorified bait-and-switch: come for the Ocean, stay for the Yeezus!

The evening’s scheduled headliner, stylistically promiscuous alt-R&B crooner Frank Ocean, pulled out of the festival “due to a scheduling conflict” days earlier, thereby dashing widely held expectation the 27-year old singer would unveil new musical output for the first time since his Grammy-winning 2012 breakthrough album Channel Orange. But in his absence, no less an Auto Tune eminence than Kanye West was announced on Thursday as 11th-hour replacement at FYF, the indie-minded, two-day extravaganza of hip-hop, rock and electronic dance music that drew more than 30,000 people to the LA Sports Arena and Exposition Park.

Considering the enveloping silence that seems to define Ocean’s career these days — cryptic Tumblr posts touting the impending release of a new album that still has yet to see the light of day, a nearly non-existent public profile — the singer’s no-show dealt a significant blow to his continuing relevancy. While for West, the fest provided exactly the opposite effect.

Hot on the heels of his polarizing June headlining slot at the UK’s Glastonbury Festival (where Ye proclaimed himself “the greatest living rock star on the planet”), the rapper-singer-producer’s pinch-hitting Los Angeles performance had a two-fold effect: it stoked pre-release buzz for Swish, West’s follow-up to his experimental noise opus Yeezus. And it marked the arrival of FYF — a scrappy younger brother to SoCal’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival — into the elite ranks of taste-making showcases for new music.

The performer wasted no time addressing the predicament that compelled his presence there, launching his set with a pointedly solo rendition of “No Church in the Wild,” a breakout track from West’s Watch the Throne album collaboration with Jay Z that features Ocean singing the chorus. Ocean’s recorded voice provoked excitement and confusion, but the showcase belonged to only one performer.

Appearing on stage in a Jedi-like tunic and leather pants ensemble amid immense clouds of stagecraft smoke, the erstwhile Louis Vuitton Don ran through his 2010 single “Power,” “Black Skinhead” (from 2013’s Yeezus) and the propulsive 2015 single “All Day” as the visual impact of his staging registered with an appreciative crowd. Despite the late notice, by appearances, West managed to import the same low-hanging lighting rig — a ceiling of minutely calibrated, interactive spotlights — that he had used to dramatic effect in Glastonbury to FYF.

By the time the performer had run through “Blessings” (a song West produced for Big Sean prominently featuring himself and Drake), “New Slaves” and “Blood on the Leaves” — a mosh pit for which compelled Yeezy to demand with typical magniloquence, “Make the circle bigger!” — the FYF crowd had begun to lose faith that they would hear material from Swish. And they never did. Not that anyone at the festival’s enthusiasm was dampened.

Founded in 2004 and staged at a tiny club in LA’s gritty Echo Park for just a few hundred people by then-18-year old concert promoter Sean Carlson — hence the event’s original name, the F— Yeah Fest — time was when FYF didn’t attract such illustrious talent. Early installments featured such punk-leaning acts as Circle Jerks and weirdo rippers No Age, local scenesters Silversun Pick Ups and Mika Miko.

By 2009, however, FYF had scaled up its operation to accommodate thousands of hipster Angelenos and relocated to LA State Park, luring such headliners as the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, M83 and TV on the Radio. Last year, the festival widened its footprint again, moving to Exposition Park and offering artisanal food and drink along side the lure of such top festival draws as Phoenix and the Strokes.

As the clock neared midnight on Saturday, West announced to the restive audience, “I need my family to help me out about now,” by way of introduction to his GOOD Music signee, rapper-producer Travis Scott, who grabbed the mic to run through a truncated version of his street anthem “Antidote.”

Acknowledging how much he wanted to do with his remaining time onstage, West said, “I’ve got like 10 minutes and I’ve got like 10 years of hits for y’all.” And without further ado, he ran through many of them in record time. A medley of “Jesus Walks,” “Touch the Sky,” the No. 1 hit “Gold Digger” and the T-Pain collabo “Good Life” segued into several of the evening’s most ecstatic moments.

Performing “FourFiveSeconds,” the single recorded earlier this year with Rihanna and Paul McCartnety, West reached down into the crowd to hand none other than Rihanna herself the microphone to sing the chorus. Appearing unprepared for the spotlight, she repaid the kindness by instructing the crowd, “LA, make some noise for my n—- Kanye!” And moments later, she joined him onstage, vamping along to a brief rendition of their collabo hit “All of the Lights.”

On West’s 2013 “Yeezus” tour, the nightly performance of his 2010 single “Runaway” provided an Auto-Tuned forum for what came to be described by just about everyone who reviewed the shows as the performer’s “rants” — impassioned if questionably reasoned diatribes from the stage about his Fashion Week seating, similarities to Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X, the presumed stupidity of certain Nike executives, etc. But on Saturday, he kept his rant light-hearted and his complaints to a minimum.

“The worst thing be when you’re high/And the person with you ain’t high enough/And you be so high/You be like/’Are you high like me?’” West sang/rapped.

He closed the evening with a stripped down rendition of the 2014 single “Only One” (performed absent its featured collaborator McCartney) — a tribute to the hip-hop superstar’s deceased mother Donda and his daughter, North, that reportedly brings West’s wife Kim Kardashian West to tears every time she hears it.

Tell Nori about me, he sang over and over during the ballad’s closing chorus. And somewhere amid the stillness of Saturday night in South Los Angeles, it was easy enough to imagine a Kardashian crying.

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